I Mean Her No Harm

The simplest and silliest of experiences often trigger insights into complex concepts and relationships. Remember how John Nash was inspired to develop a new concept of governing dynamics when discussing with fellow grad students at a bar how to approach a group of women? (see “A Beautiful Mind”) Let me share with you a recent “Aha!” experience.

On a breezy Saturday morning, my husband was digging up a patch of our back lawn so as to plant some tomato seedlings. You know that you need to relocate your tomato garden from one place to another if you’ve experienced “tomato blight” or simply because tomatoes – or so I’m told – quickly exhaust the soil of its nutrients. I, too, was in the back yard, hanging laundry and thinking about how my clothesline also needed to be relocated this year as the nearby trees have filled in with more branches and leaves and little sunshine now graces that plot of land.



With laundry basket tucked under my arm, I walked toward the back porch door when, all of a sudden, I saw a blur of movement overhead. It was a robin. You see, while we were traveling for 4 weeks, Mother Robin had decided to make part of our home, her home. Carefully, and with one piece of grass or twig at a time, she had constructed her nest on top of the light fixture outside the back porch. When we returned to introduce noise & motion to the area, the die had been cast – her eggs had already been laid inside and it was too late to relocate and start all over again.


As we entered or exited our back porch, we did so carefully, trying not to upset her, Sometimes we forgot, however, and the door slammed and Mother Robin would swoop away when we inadvertently invade her space. This time she had perched in the nearby Flowering Crabapple tree and I saw her anxiously waiting for us to “Go away!” As I brought out a hat to my husband, I again saw something streak past. She had returned to her nest and was feeding her newly hatched chicks!  I was fascinated!  Perhaps I was even gawking in wonder as she inserted her beak into those of her babies. She eyed me warily as I stood about 10 feet away, motionless.  My husband, however, came strolling over to check out the scene and she didn’t quite like the looks of him – or so he said.  She quickly ducked back over to the Crabapple.  Perhaps if I waited a bit, standing still, making no noise?  Still, Mother Robin would not return.  Doesn’t she know that I mean her no harm?


That’s when it hit me.  Doesn’t she know that I mean her no harm?  All I wanted to do was to witness a special moment as she cared for her young.  All I wanted was to see their cute little faces upturned.  I was hoping to share a somewhat “sacred” practice – a mother providing so that her little ones would thrive.  Did I want to interfere?  Challenge her feeding schedule?  Tell her there was a better way to do what she was doing?  Was I critical of her menu?  Or her housekeeping?

Not a chance.  I was admiring, amazed at how the baby robins knew to keep silent when Mama flew away.  “Danger!” they must have thought.  But, I was no danger to them or her.  In my heart, I was cheering them all on, wishing them a safe place and time in which to grow. The furthest thing from my mind was to impede, disrupt or undermine Mother Robin’s efforts.


But, she didn’t know that.  Perhaps she saw me as she had been programmed to do – a threat, an unknown, an intruder.  Unwelcome.  She continued to look at me uneasily, wondering if I might try to unseat them from the comfort and safety of their home.

Do you perhaps see yourself in this scenario?  Either as a MIL or a DIL?  On one side or the other?

I walked away slowly and made a point of entering and exiting the house through another door.  Each time I’m checking on the progress of the tomato garden or the dampness of the clothes on the line, I peer into that corner above the porch light to see what’s going on there.  Will she become accustomed to my  presence?  How long might it take for her to trust me?  Will she ever?


We have only a limited amount of time to forge this pact, she and I.  Her babies will only be babies for a short time.  And I can only share and enjoy what she is willing to allow or welcome.

But, what am I talking about now?  Birds?  Or MIL & DILS?



Ellie in Aotearoa

Conducting an interview with an English-speaking woman at an elevation of 10,000 meters may not sound like a challenging affair.  Still, there’s the issue of trying to record a conversation with the background droning from the engines.  And her husband regularly offering his two cents as I pose a few questions.  But, it;s that Kiwi accent that makes her sometimes difficult to understand and keeps reminding me that  “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

I share with Ellie my quest to find sage advice about how to be a great MIL/DIL and figure that at her stage of life, she might be a great source.  Her three sons and their wives had all been married quite a while.  Along the way, boundaries had needed to be negotiated.  She volunteers a bit of her story – the comfortable and the not-so-comfortable – and I come away with three points worth mentioning.

“I’ve sailed in a few times, if you like, and, you know, treated them like you’d see it as a daughter, sort of.  And I did find that …”  She paused reflectively.  “Well, they’re all my sons and so I’d ask about their business and that sort of thing.”  She chuckled a bit self-consciously.  “And sometimes I got a bit of an icy silence.  So, I don’t know how to explain it, but there is that little line, if you like … that, uh,  (here comes point #1) “they’re not your daughters and sometimes, it’s not your business.”

I think a bit about that as I look out the window.  Flying down the west coasts of both the North & South Islands allows us the perfect vantage point for viewing the geographical features of this breath-takingly beautiful country.  One certainly needs to be enamored with vowels to live in Aotearoa which means “land of the long, white cloud” in Maori.


“So, how do you get along with your DILs nowadays?”

“Mine aren’t too bad, actually.  (“.. aren’t too bad”..? … as if most of them are?)  One of them loves shopping.  So, she does the shopping for me … me being blind and that.”  Ellie had a degenerative vision problem and was given special attention by the flight crew upon boarding the aircraft.  Sounds like she is getting special attention from her DILs, also!

Another DIL lives close by and takes Ellie’s husband to the doctor or hospital, when needed, and waits around for him to be treated.

The third DIL “loves landscaping and gardening, and that, and she knows that I do, too.  And so she keeps sending up little photos of things she’s seen.  And she saves up the crossword puzzles for my husband.”  He leans over at this point to show how many he has.  “She saves these for me!  Every day!”  His wide grin broadcasts the pleasure that comes from being on the receiving end of thoughtfulness – knowing that you’re someone special to someone who’s not “obliged” to love you.

“I think it’s wonderful” Ellie explains “when they’re not actually your daughters, you know, and they do this. …. They’ve been very good.”

Point #2:  Everyone likes a bit of special attention and small kindnesses make a big impact from people who matter to you.


“So, Ellie, do you call your DILs or do you call your sons when you want to touch base and catch up on things?”  I’ve been asking this question regularly.  I want to know.  In this day of instant and constant communication, who calls whom in the MIL/DIL relationship?


“I actually call my sons.”  There you go – Point #3.

Sometimes she speaks with her DILs when the occasional holiday or special celebration warrants speakerphone usage.  Or Skype.

Call your sons, not your DILs?  That seems to be the overwhelming practice of the MILs I’ve interviewed.  Right.  So, that takes some pressure off me.  DILs, in general,  are probably not expecting phone calls from their MILs.  Good.  Not being a natural extrovert nor knowing my DILs well enough to just call and chat, I’m happy with this confirmation.

“Look at those mountains!”

Mt. Cook or Aoraki

Our conversation is interrupted by this exclamation from the seat behind us.  We gaze out the tiny airplane windows at “the Southern Alps” and the chime sounds signaling that we would soon be landing.  End  of flight.  End of interview.  End of relationship?  Will I ever see Ellie again?  Not likely as we live on opposite sides of the world and she looks to be in her 70’s (or 80’s?  How can one guess?)  Ellie does, however, leave me with a gift – her story.


And now I’ve shared it with you.







What I Learned in May


Did you catch the rainbow?  They always make me smile!


Okay, okay!  So, I seem to be a bit “behind the eight ball” so to speak, with getting my “What I Learned In …. ” posted in a timely manner.   I could tell you I learned it in June so as not to look like I’m late announcing this.  However, truth be told, I did “learn” this in May.  So, I might as well say so.

This was definitely worth recognizing, worth writing about, because it changed my perspective on the MIL/DIL thing.  So, perhaps you’ll find it worth the time to read.  😉


This is one thing I became very much aware of in May …..

I’m HIS mother.  And he is a grown man now.  (THAT part I already knew!  Keep reading.)

I’m not HER mother.  I’m not HER friend.  I’m not HER family.  She need have nothing more to do with me than she would with an acquaintance.  My daughter-in-law did not choose me and I didn’t choose her.  They chose one another.  He is HER husband and she is HIS wife.  I have no claim on her – her time, her attention, her friendship, her love.  It may come – and I hope it will – but I have NO claim.  Nada.   Rien.  Niente.  This is at the core of the MIL/DIL relationship.

We both get to choose how much time, energy and effort we will put into the relationship, how far we let the other into our life, how often we want to spend time with one another, … whether we will choose to be friends …. family … allies ….

It may have been different years ago … in previous generations.  And it’s most likely different in other cultures.  (This we will explore in future posts!)  But, for here and for now, that’s what I see.  That’s what I hear.

That sheds some light on the subject … for me!  And in some way …. it seems to make the whole relationship a bit …. easier.  I feel more relaxed.  And that’s got to show.  This “I get it!” realization dissolves any pressure I might have been experiencing – even unknowingly so.  Fewer expectations … fewer “should”s ….. fewer “need to”s …. more time and space to see what, if anything, will come together.

Rainbows?   Perhaps.  But, there’s no rush.  I feel less inclined now to “make it happen” and much more comfortable to “wait and see”.

“5 Things a Daughter-in-Law Should Never Do”

20131202_56Just found this thought-provoking article written by Danielle Sullivan on Yahoo Shine in Sept 2011.  Worth the read.

Perhaps you’ve gotten “caught up in the flow” of some of these behaviors and cannot yet see how destructive they can be to your relationship with your husband and children as well as your in-laws.  Take heart!  Count it as water over the dam and decide to begin anew.

Are there any of these principles that you might need to begin practicing … today?





“Nothing” (Five Minute Friday)

Occasionally, I join the Five Minute Friday community and write for 5 minutes flat on the one-word prompt given for that week.  This week’s word: Nothing. Here we GO!
Paua Shell
Nothing will keep me from loving her.
I’m a MIL – mother-in-law – now.  And I’ve got a DIL – daughter-in-law – who’s not quite sure about me … whether I’m friend or foe; whether I can be trusted as a confidant … will I regard her critically or supportively.  I’ve got my own brand of quirkiness, “interesting” attitudes, ways of doing things … and so does she.  We approach life & politics & religion from different angles.  She & I … we expect different things from our new relationship.
But, nothing will keep me from loving her.
We may annoy one another, inadvertently offend one another, misunderstand, miscommunicate & at least at first, mistrust.
But, I will love her.
Why?  Because that’s what I’m called to do.

MIL/DIL Counsel: Never Heard This Before!

Recently read this interesting counsel on two-older-black-women-outdoors-14309798Tips to Improve Your Relationship with Your MIL:

“If you have the same standard for your mother-in-law as you have for your mother, then the problem will be gone.”

I’ve never heard that before!  Have you?

What do you think about that idea?  It sounds intriguing to me.  Could it work?  What would that look like and sound like?  How might it specifically play out?  About what standards are we talking here?

“Say it ain’t so” that we should take this to mean that if one has an unhealthy relationship with one’s mother that she should use this as a template with her MIL  So, should we talk about patience, kindness and respect?  Am I as considerate of my MIL at family gatherings as I am of my Mom?  Am I as willing to overlook her occasional faux pas?  What about including her in activities, outings, parties and discussions?

If I love my mother, should I also look to love my mother-in-law?  The answer, of course, is a resounding “Yes!”  And love means, in small part, to be generous in one’s thoughts about another.  Love results in a willingness to forgive and keep no record of wrongdoing, especially if it was inadvertent.Smiley Face Cupcakes Royalty Free Stock Photo, Pictures, Images And Stock Photography. Image 7823065.

Is this realistic?  Clearly, we are not proposing that we treat our MIL exactly the same as we treat the woman who wiped our snotty noses, got her hands goopy with Play Doh, made cupcakes for the classroom holiday parties, waited up at night when we were out on a date, and prayed for our spouses since the day we were born.  No, if we were blessed with a mother that nurtured and cared for us, that woman will always hold a special place of honor in our hearts.  And she will not be replaced by another.  Still, that doesn’t mean we cannot have a special place in our hearts for the woman who did all those things for the man we chose – of all the men we’d ever met – to do life with.  Perhaps, this, more than anything else is what is meant by “have the same standard”.

Are you interested in trying this on for size?  Let me know what you learn about her … and yourself. 😉